What if God cares more about sexism than about how much you masturbate?

What if God cares more about sexism than about how much you masturbate? November 27, 2013


This is an image from the Jack Chick tract, “This Was Your Life” (h/t Nathan Redfield) Yes, why didn’t someone warn this poor naked man

“You may think your sins don’t hurt anyone…but it hurts GOD.”

If you grew up in an evangelical or fundamentalist church, there’s a good chance you heard this phrase growing up. I know I did. This was the phrase that pastors liked to whip out to counter this “liberal” idea that a sin is something that does harm in the world and hurts other people.

In fact, these “don’t harm anyone but GOD” sins are the ones evangelical Christians always seemed most concerned with (note: I don’t think any of these things are actually wrong).

Responsible drinking.

Saying “Fuck” when you stub your toe.


Safe, consensual premarital sex.

Listening to “worldly” music.

Skipping church.

Failing to read the Bible everyday.

These are acts that involve a personal choice or a choice that two (or more) people make consensually.  Though some of these things (like sex and drinking) can carry risk (like nearly EVERYTHING we do in life) and should be practiced responsibly, they are not inherently acts of harm. They are not inherently hurtful, unloving acts.

Yet these are the “sins” that the evangelical church seems most preoccupied with.

By focusing on these “sins” that don’t hurt anyone (except GOD apparently), these Christians effectively take the focus off of the real sins. The sins that actually do harm to fellow humans and the image of God that is in them. 

I had a pastor who would rail against anyone making a joke about sex. Yet he would stand up in front of the church and joke about giving his wife “the right hand of fellowship,” while making a backhand slapping motion.

My Christian high school would punish students if they found rock music in their lockers. Yet they bought textbooks for students that contained slavery and KKK apologia.

I know of many pastors who wouldn’t hesitate to call out Christians who skipped church to watch a football game. Yet when they find out someone in their congregation has been sexually assaulting children, they decide to cover it up and keep it quiet.

These “don’t harm anyone but God” “sins” are a distraction. They’re a way to keep us so stuck in a cycle of self-improvement, self-righteousness, and/or self-hatred that we can’t see the systematic injustice going on all around us.

The powers that be need to keep us praying, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people–ACDC fans, pregnant teenagers, people who watch R rated movies…” They need us constantly striving for perfection in these “don’t harm anyone but God” areas, wearing a rubber band on our wrist and snapping it every time we say “darn” or think about boobs. They need us ashamed and embarrassed and hating ourselves because of who we are and what we do to our genitals.

If we were able to break out of this cycle of self-hatred, self-improvement, and self-righteousness over “don’t harm anyone but God” “sins,” we might wake up and notice the systems that oppress us and the systems that privilege us at the expense of others.

As my friend Jason Dye said on Facebook yesterday,

God is gravely concerned about sin – sin against people.
Poverty is sin.. against the poor.
Racism is sin… against people of color.
Sexism is sin… against women.
Homoantagonism is sin… against [gay, lesbian, and bisexual people].
Genocide is sin… against the Other.
Transantagonism is sin… against human beings.

If the concept of sin is going to be at all useful in working toward a just world, it needs to be about systems of oppression and our place in perpetuating them. It needs to be about our affirmation of the humanity of others, and our commitment to treating them justly. Otherwise, the concept is just a tool that helps those in power control others and keep them preoccupied. 


This post was inspired by a conversation with Jason Dye, Alan Hooker, Dianna Anderson, h00die_R, Suzannah Paul, and Dani Kelley. Thanks y’all, for all the great, productive conversations! 

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  • I love what you say about the cycles of guilt and self-improvement distracting us from the pursuit of justice.

  • James Rowe

    I learned many years ago a principle when asked my opinion on a subject. The Bible, says to study to show one’s self to be approved. Simply put, what does the Bible say? Men will sell you short. This blog post shows that.

  • Msironen

    The idea of god depicted here is basically the same as the social conservatives’; a cosmic Nelson Muntz going “Ha-ha!”. Only the perspective is different.

  • Alice

    Great post! I’ve been really annoyed lately by how fundamentalists focus SO MUCH freaking energy on blasting women for dressing “immodestly” and telling them they should care that they are “harming” men. Yet fundamentalists usually say nothing or don’t notice when people are /actually/ harming each other by being physically, emotionally, or spiritually abusive, controlling, racist, homophobic, misogynistic, cold-hearted, the list goes on.

  • Y. A. Warren

    You said it, Sistah!

  • Hanan

    just to clarify, you are not saying that self-improvement is a bad thing, are you?

  • Fallulah

    Read the bible…god doesn’t give a shit about sexism, he promotes it.

  • I remember this Chick tract well! Your friend Jason has the concept of sin much better defined, which parallels a favorite author’s of mine definition:

    Sin lies only in hurting other people unnecessarily. All other sins are invented nonsense. (Hurting yourself is not sinful–just stupid.)
    ~Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love

  • Ben English


  • ortcutt

    The problem is that many religious people see their chief obligation as submission to the will of God. Which is to say that they care a lot about these sins that don’t harm anyone’s well-being. There are two ways of remedying the situation. First, someone can removing all of the “Don’t masturbate”-type prohibitions so that God’s will is identical to a humanistic ethic, or second, someone can stop slavishly obeying the supposed dictates of a supernatural being with an arbitrary list of Do’s and Don’ts.

  • I’m late to this discussion since I came here from fred at slactivist but I wanted to jump on your point that these “sins against god” keep the individual focused on an unhealthy, circular, private, sphere of self loathing and self correction. It reminds me of something the “life coach” Hillary Rettig sends out pretty regularly with her newsletter–that perfectionism and self criticism are ways that we prevent ourselves from taking risks. They can feel virtuous or necessary to turning out a “really good” product–even if that product is conceived of as ourselves–but really they prevent us from doing anything at all for fear of failure. I’ve certainly found that to be true in my work life. Can’t imagine how impotent and frozen I’d feel if I were trying to please an angry god who I thought of as spying on my every thought and private deed. I probably wouldn’t be able to get out of bed.

    In addition–this entire sin/not sin dichotomy is such a zero sum approach to human existence and action. What if I masturbate in the morning and then go out and found an orphanage and end world hunger? Is the totality of the first “sin” against god really thought to outweigh my “works?” Thats your point about “cycles of guilt and self improvement” distracting us from the pursuit of justice. Not only do they distract us, we are being told that the personal outweighs the political, that the private sin outweighs the public good. That is a recipe for disaster for society.